Empowering Students through Coaching
The end of the Spring term at our school is marked clearly by one notorious event. Staff and students gather at a theatre in Prague and take their seats with high anticipation, for neither the audience nor the performers themselves can be certain of what is about to occur. The Cultural Olympiad is a smorgasbord of drama, music, art, film, comedy and dance in which the four houses of Ignis, Aqua, Terra and Ventus compete with passion and pride. As a Head of House, I watch each year with amazement at what the students can achieve largely on their own with a little support from teachers. The Olympiad is a student-led event which brings some risk but ultimately greater rewards for the pupils involved.
It can be said that as teachers our role is to constantly reimagine the future. There is an enduring challenge and satisfaction in teaching that comes from the fact that lessons can always be adapted, added to and improved to make them more relevant and effective. Similarly, we continually reappraise the way we interact with our students to help them develop personally and academically. Of course we want them to achieve excellent exam results when they graduate, but equally we want them to make the most of the wider opportunities that school provides and to have high mental and emotional wellbeing.
To this end, my school has embarked on a journey to discover how coaching can improve student outcomes. To begin with, all staff received the equivalent of two days of coach training from an ICF-accredited Coach. This led to an open discussion between the headmaster and staff about how we might take coaching forwards this coming September. In parallel, the school part-funded my own coach training through the excellent Science and Art of Coaching programme run by Tracy Sinclair. In 2013, a Turkish school won the ICF International Prism Award for successfully embedding a coaching culture within their organisation. This example has given us further food for thought as we make our plans.
Personally, coach training has given me fresh impetus in thinking about how to improve my lessons and add value on a one-to-one level in working with students. The key insight has been that I can help others by listening more, questioning better and believing sincerely in their potential to achieve more through their own volition. In the context of school this means, wherever possible, partnering with students to help them decide their best course of action and to resist advising them what to do. So far I have used my new coaching skills to change the dynamic of the individual meetings I have with my students about their economics coursework. I have coached a final year student to overcome his limiting beliefs around revision planning and collaborated with a younger student to help him realise his idea for a whole-school charity event. In my pastoral role, I have used a coaching style to encourage underperforming students to be more self-aware and conducted effective student-parent meetings using coaching techniques.
I am fortunate in my school that our headmaster and governors are very supportive of staff professional development to the extent that all teachers have a reduced teaching timetable with which to conduct teacher-led research. This means that in the new academic year like-minded staff will have time each week to meet and discuss their experience of using coaching. We hope to log all of these examples and begin to build a body of evidence and resources that will inform each step of our coaching journey. In time, we hope to offer formal coaching sessions to students conducted by well-trained ‘coach-teachers’. For this we will of course need the ongoing help of the ICF community.
As the curtain came down on this year’s Cultural Olympiad I thought about how coaching is centered on the belief that we all have hidden potential and that we can do more than we may think if we feel empowered to do so. This feeling of empowerment comes from experiencing personal achievement often in the face of adversity. A coach can unlock this self-belief. Recently I was reminded of the saying by Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu that ‘a leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves’.
David Wyllyams is Head of Economics, Senior Tutor and Head of House at The English College in Prague, Czech Republic. Connect with David on LinkedIn.
This article is part of a special series celebrating International Coaching Week 2022! This year’s theme is “Reimagining the Future”.
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